Tips for Sharpening Software Developer Skills

Written by Coursera Staff • Updated on

If you’re interested in sharpening the critical skills needed for a successful career in software development, these tips can help.

[Featured image] An aspiring software developer takes a programming class in a computer lab.

The world of technology is constantly changing, making it crucial for developers to learn and grow their expertise. Sometimes, skill sharpening is as simple as revisiting the basics. But there are times when sharpening those essential software developer skills involves learning an entirely new language.

How can you stay ahead of the game? Here are the benefits and various ways of keeping your skill set sharp.

Benefits of building your software developer skills

Expanding your skill set for software developers can help you qualify for a new position or promotion, perform more efficiently in your role, or contribute value to your team. It is also one of the most fulfilling things to do as a developer. Many developers choose the profession because of their satisfaction from creating something from nothing. Learning new technologies is a way to experience that feeling again and again.

The best way to build your skill set is to thoroughly learn your language, frameworks, and tools and gain more experience with various projects. The more existing skills you build upon, the easier acquiring new skills becomes.

How to build software developer skills

Whether you're just starting in software development or looking to advance within the field, you'll find a wealth of resources out there—many of them free—to fuel your learning.

1. Read, listen, watch. 

Three simple ways to stay updated with your software developer skills are to read books and articles, listen to podcasts, and watch videos. For example, Eric Hartzog, a software engineer at Meta, follows blog posts from the significant frameworks he uses, like React Native and React JS, and follows version releases from some of the smaller frameworks, like MobX and Redux. "I also use various feed apps to tailor developer blogs and content that I don’t explicitly follow, which sometimes gives insights into approaches I didn’t think of," he adds.

  • Books and articles: Books are the traditional way of learning programming concepts and languages. While different mediums have become more prevalent, books still have many to offer. Highlighting, bookmarking, and including your notes are much more manageable with books than audio or video formats. Searching for the top-recommended books in a field of interest is an excellent place to start.

  • Podcasts: There is a lot to be learned about software development from podcasts. Though you cannot see the code or what is created, this is not usually the point of development-focused podcasts. IT podcasters tend to stay current with the latest technology news and teach tangential skills. They also remain alert to new tools, learning resources, and ways of attacking a problem. Though not a primary learning medium, podcasts are an excellent supplement.

  • Videos: YouTube has many talented creators who offer a breadth of knowledge about new languages, libraries, frameworks, and more, all for free. Information quality can vary, but it’s easy to tell if a video or creator will be a good fit by vetting likes and comments. It’s essential to be mindful of the publish date, as newer versions of the technology may be available. Creators will likely mention what version they are working on and often release new tutorial versions if a significant change invalidates the old video.

2. Engage with open-source projects.

Finding an open-source project using any language or framework you may be interested in learning is easy. GitHub is an excellent place to find these. Once you’ve chosen a project, start with the README section to learn how to run the project on your machine. Inspect the code provided and see how it applies concepts you're learning, and while understanding it all isn’t necessary, look for familiar concepts, methods, and paradigms.

Once you’re confident and well-versed in the project, look at the project's needs. If you’re on GitHub, these will be found on the "Issues" tab. Here, you’ll see a list of bugs and feature requests. Choose a need that looks manageable and get going. Even if you don't submit a pull request, there’s a lot of potential for learning. Consult the README for a style guide and code contribution guidelines.

As your projects continue to gain complexity, you can also refer to these online communities to find answers to any questions that may come up in your work. "Daily, I have to search for answers and learn from other developers' experiences by scanning through discussions on Stack Overflow and GitHub," says Murtadha Al-Tameem, a software engineer at Meta with a decade of experience.

3. Seek out a mentor.

In the development world, having a mentor is incredibly valuable. They can help you solve problems, overcome roadblocks, educate, challenge, and cheer you on. The definition of a relationship doesn’t have to be an explicit "mentor-mentee." Having more than one mentor can often be beneficial. Mentorship can be as simple as a private list of people to turn to for questions and roadblocks. Discord servers, Slack channels, Twitter, Facebook groups, local meetups, and your workplace are good places to find people for your list.

A good mentor candidate is someone who is patient and open to questions. Always return patience, and remember that people take time out of their day to give advice. If you find yourself in a position to help someone else, do so. The development community thrives on information being easily accessible.

4. Attend conferences.

Conferences bring people to the top of their field and people eager to learn in one space. After their presentation, speakers often open the mic for a question-and-answer session. These informal sessions are invaluable for clearing up misconceptions or expanding on ideas. You can get an answer to your mental block in real time.

Listen closely to others’ questions, too. They may have thought of something you hadn't considered. Social times are usually integrated into the schedule. Attending these events is a great way to build your network. You may even find your next mentor. Your company may be willing to pay for you to attend these conferences as well.

5. Learn a new programming language. 

Once you’ve mastered your first language, learning a new one is an excellent way to stay on top of ever-changing technologies. Learning new languages is like adding more arrows to your development quiver, giving you more tools to get the job done and enabling you to execute increasingly complex ideas. Not only does knowing more than one programming language make you a stronger software developer, but it could open new paths for employment opportunities in the future.

Looking to learn a new language? Consider these courses from top companies and universities on Coursera:

Python for Everybody from the University of Michigan

HTML, CSS, and JavaScript for Web Developers from Johns Hopkins

Google IT Automation with Python Professional Certificate from Google


6. Share your software developer skills and abilities with others.

One of the best ways to learn is by teaching. If you can break a complex idea down simply enough to make sense to a beginner, you have a firm grasp of the material. Sometimes, beginners may ask questions that give you insights into information relationships you hadn't previously considered.

Helping a friend or colleague level up can also help you improve your software developer skills. They will eventually learn something you don’t know, allowing you to learn from each other.

7. Take online courses in software development.

Consider a well-structured course from an authoritative source when deciding to continue deeper into a subject.

Discuss taking courses with your workplace, as it’s possible to receive reimbursement for both the resources and your time. Many companies invest in their team members and understand the benefit of them levelling up.

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